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HKILS looks younger this year

Entertainment brands had a bumper year at the Hong Kong International Licensing Show in January, the big winners being brands serving the pre-school market.

While it’s been accepted reason in recent years that China represents a massive opportunity to increase sales of many types of product, the opportunities for entertainment product have been on a huge growth curve. The mainland sees new box office records set several times a year as the number of screens continues to increase rapidly, the online market is taking shape, and government is more active in clamping down on piracy of entertainment product.

Access to the theatrical market is restricted by the much-publicised quota for foreign films and the mainland government’s less-than-transparent censorship process, but – at least as far as the major players are concerned – it’s well worth the effort. Predicted to overtake the US as the world’s largest box office market within the next three years, there’s no good reason not to at least consider it. Even modest success in a market the size of China is likely to dwarf potential earnings in other territories.

Hong Kong has long served as a route into China. Specifically for entertainment product, a Hong Kong production (or co-production) bypasses China’s quota requirements, which has made the territory an effective partner for international producers looking to access the mainland market.

The recent worldwide success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was trumpeted by a number of Asian Licensing Conference (ALC) speakers as evidence of the enduring strength of established franchises – although nobody claimed to expect any 2016 release to challenge the box office records Star Wars has been setting.

Major studios promoting at the Hong Kong International Licensing Show (HKILS) running alongside ALC included Fox and Warner Brothers, the latter’s upcoming Batman vs Superman prominent in its offer.

Also being promoted was the upcoming Warcraft, from Duncan Jones (Moon), which received some additional notice during the show on the back of events elsewhere. News of the death of Jones’ father, David Bowie, broke on the first day of the events in Hong Kong, The following day Warcraft producer, US studio Legendary Pictures, was acquired by Chinese company Dalian Wanda. The company, vertically integrated in China, has been looking to add US production capability to the chain of cinemas it acquired in 2012. Dalian Wanda was also linked to a bid for the Odeon chain of cinemas last September,

Although the teen-twenties male demographic remains front and centre for multiplex programmers in most countries, entertainment franchises pitching at a younger market were very active at HKILS this year.

Models promote exhibitors promoting goods for this year's "Monkey babies"

Models promote exhibitors promoting goods for this year’s “Monkey babies”

While the young models pushing prams around the fair are probably not a marketing approach that would play well in some regions, they did draw attention to the end of China’s one-child policy on 1 January. The increase in the number of births now kicking in had analysts predicting that, by the time 2016’s “Monkey babies” start school, there’ll be an extra 10 million under fives in mainland China.

UK-based Aardman Animation’s Sean Clarke spoke on an ALC panel, sharing some of the opportunities Aardman has been exploiting around Shaun the Sheep.

What Clarke focused on in Hong Kong was Aardman’s ability to work with local partners (17 in Asia) to generate millions of dollars worth of new business by creating a programme of promotional activity for Shaun the Sheep, all linked to 2015 being the Chinese Year of the Sheep.

While Shaun the Sheep has been around for a decade now, and comes from a company that’s celebrating its 40th year, there’s a very buoyant animation market driven by much younger talent in Asia. Studios from Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Thailand exhibited at the show, promoting a range of content including some of characters at least as old and well-known as Shaun, such as Bandai Namco’s game characters Pac-Man and Galaxian.

A couple of hours after Clarke presented Shaun the Sheep at ALC, it collected an International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA) Best Entertainment Licence of the Year award, for its work in the region last year. Despite missing out on a Golden Globe just before the Hong Kong events, Shaun is still in the running for BAFTA and an Oscar awards.

Promoting Hi-5 at HKILS 2016

Promoting Hi-5 at HKILS 2016

Other Western pre-school entertainment brands are also making progress through partnerships in China as the TV market opens up. Pukeko Pictures’s The WotWots has been in China for some time now. New Zealand and Singapore-based Zoo Moo (“all animals all the time”), available as a channel in some Asian and South American countries, has announced an agreement with China’s state broadcaster CCTV to supply branded programming blocks.

Pukeko and ZooMoo’s deals have in common the creation of new content specifically targeting the mainland China market.

Other Australasian entertainment brands active at ALC and HKILS included The Wiggles and Hi-5. The Wiggles have long been active internationally, exporting their brand and merchandising through a combination of TV shows and live performances.

Now managed out of Singapore, Hi-5 was leveraging recent successes in the region at HKILS, including an Asian TV Awards win in December.

Organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the Asian Licensing Conference and Hong Kong International Licensing Show ran in the week beginning Monday 11 January. The events drew a record 340+ exhibitors and 21,000 attendees.

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